Antisulfatide polyneuropathy: antibody-mediated complement attack on peripheral myelin

Acta Neuropathol. 1998 Dec;96(6):569-74. doi: 10.1007/s004010050937.


Increased titers of circulating antisulfatide antibodies are consistently associated with a variety of chronic axonal and demyelinating polyneuropathy syndromes. Previous studies have shown that the pattern of antisulfatide binding to neural tissues correlates with the type of neuropathy. This suggests a possible role for antisulfatide antibodies in inducing peripheral nerve dysfunction, although their exact contribution to the pathogenesis of neuropathy is still unknown. We examined sural nerve biopsy specimens from two patients with sensorimotor and small fiber sensory neuropathy associated with high titers of IgM monoclonal antibodies to sulfatide. Electrophysiological and pathological findings were consistent with predominant demyelination in the patient with sensorimotor involvement, whereas evidence of demyelination was obtained only by teased fiber examination in the other patient. The ultrastructural study disclosed in both cases the presence of myelinated fibers with widely spaced myelin, due to a separation of leaflets of the intraperiod lines. Immunocytochemistry, performed on frozen sections, demonstrated the presence of IgM and complement product C3d bound to myelin sheaths of almost all fibers. Few fibers were immunoreactive for complement components C1q and C5. In addition, the terminal complement complex neoantigen C5b-C9, not associated with S protein, was detected on some myelinated fibers. The results suggest that, at the least in some forms of demyelinating neuropathy associated with antisulfatide antibodies, pathological changes are complement mediated. Our data further confirm previous clinical and experimental observations that complement activation initiates separation of myelin intraperiod lines.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antibodies / immunology*
  • Antibodies / physiology
  • Complement System Proteins / metabolism
  • Complement System Proteins / physiology*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / immunology*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / physiopathology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Direct
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism
  • Myelin Sheath / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / immunology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Sulfoglycosphingolipids / immunology*


  • Antibodies
  • Sulfoglycosphingolipids
  • Complement System Proteins